Leonardo da Vinci: A Life In Drawing

October 15, 2020 5 min read

We were hugely excited and extremely privileged to be invited to the press launch for the hugely anticipated “Leonardo da Vinci: A Life In Drawing”.

Sunderland’s Museum and Winter Gardens are playing host to this wonderful exhibition and from those fabulous folk at Sunderland Culture: “Leonardo da Vinci: A Life In Drawing, featuring 12 drawings from the Italian master, is part of a national tour to mark the 500th anniversary of his death and Sunderland is one of 12 UK venues chosen by Royal Collection Trust to simultaneously host the exhibition. A total of 144 Leonardo drawings will be shown across the country”.

This a real coup for the city of Sunderland and you can feel the real sense of pride that it has been chosen to be one of the twelve host venues. 

As many of you know from previous blogs we are both non drivers so we alighted the trusty Tyne and Wear Metro at Whitley Bay, a quick change of train at South Gosforth and onwards to Sunderland. As we travelled we both discussed how much we actually knew of the life of Leonardo da Vinci. Various important dates in his life are etched on Paul’s brain as Leonardo makes his presence felt in his favourite Doctor Who story “City of Death” ( it’s amazing what sticks in your brain from when you are four). For Lucy memories of childhood trips to Italy and in particular hot days in Florence were at the fore.

The Museum and Winter Gardens is just a short walk around the corner from the train station. The museum is one of the top five visited attractions in the whole of North East England is also during the course of the exhibition to put on display a number of works from its collection that have not been shown for a number of years.

The exhibition which runs from 1st February to 6th May is located in one of the upstairs galleries. It was fab to see our fellow lovers of all things North East, The Culture Vulture and Brilianty Social in attendance, and so in went went. What instantly hits you as you enter the exhibition is the amount of work that has gone into making this as enjoyable, informative and educational as it possibly can and that sense of pride is so evident. You are immediately drawn to the momentous history and importance of it all, I mean before you are original drawings and writings from one of the most influential figures in history. Taking a breath to absorb all that the exhibition begins with a very useful timeline of Leonardo’s life listing all of the significant dates and events. 

The twelve drawings on show at the exhibition have been carefully chosen so that they fully reflect the interests and skills of the great man and it is truly amazing just how far his talents extended. Looking at drawings of anatomy from the fifteenth century had us bowled over that people were actually documenting the study of such subjects this far back in history. It really is quite awe inspiring seeing his writing too and imagining him all those centuries ago whether it be in France or Renaissance Italy carrying out his studies. The works are a truly reflective look at the world around Leonardo at this time in history. 

One drawing that really keeps in the mind is “A Portrait of a woman in profile” which dates somewhere between 1485-90. During his life Leonardo did five portraits and of course the one that we all know is a certain “Mona Lisa”. However, because of this global fame the sitter has lost her individuality and become so idealised. The drawing at Sunderland is a true study and reflection of a young woman in everyday clothing and really shows off how he captures such minute details. 

Another is “Mortars firing into a fortress” c.1503-4 details how a fortress could be breached using stones as mortars. Engineer, map maker, artist and now military strategy  there was no end to this mans talents and that is exactly what this exhibition triumphantly  sets out to show. The information notes that accompany each piece really sets the picture of where Leonardo was in his life and by the time you have walked round the whole exhibition you really feel that you have a picture of the man behind the drawings in your head. 

We both felt that we had just shared a very special experience seeing the exhibition and would recommend that you put this at the top of your list of things to see over the next few weeks in the North East. The museum is also hosting an exhibition named “One Day You’ll Be Older To” which focuses on some of the oldest residents of Sunderland. We only had a sneak preview of this as they were busy hanging the pictures but it definitely looks worthy of further investigation.

After our trip back in history into the life of Leonardo da Vinci headed downstairs to the very relaxed and inviting surroundings of Holmeside Coffee.  A lovely place to enjoy a good cup of coffee or one of their many wonderful teas. It was great to see so many people using the cafe as a creative space and we found ourselves unable to resist their very tempting scones. 

And to purchase tickets for the da Vinci exhibition visit www.sunderlandmuseum.org.uk or in person from the visitor services desk at the museum.  Following the end of the exhibition at Sunderland on 6th May and at all of the other venues (Belfast, Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Derby, Glasgow, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield and Southampton) all of the works shall come together to form an exhibition at the Queen’s Gallery in Buckingham Palace. Then eighty of the drawings shall head North of the Border in November to Holyroodhouse Palace’s very own Queen’s Gallery.

Sunderland Culture have put together a wonderful series of events to tie in with the da Vinci exhibition and there really is something for everyone and for children do check what they have going on during February Half Term. We are very much looking forward to an event happening on 27th February which is talk by Martin Clayton who is Head of Prints and Drawings at the Royal Collection Trust. He will “trace Leonardo’s career, and the development of his thought through his beautiful drawings in the Royal Collection - focusing especially on the twelve exhibited in Sunderland.”

For details of all events and activities during the exhibition again visit www.sunderlandmuseum.org.uk

Congratulations Sunderland and what a fabulous venue to host the work of such a great man. 

Just for info - we were invited to the press launch of Leonardo da Vinci: A Life In Drawing to review the exhibition for the purpose of this blog. We're rather thrilled that we loved the exhibition as much as we did as this blog really is about places we love in the North East and couldn't have written a blog about the exhibition if couldn't honestly recommend it. Luckily we had a fab time and we wholeheartedly recommend going if you get a chance.

#sunderlandleo #leonardo500

Lucy Hull
Lucy Hull

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